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Take a look at your grocery cart. What colors do you see? If your answer is beige, beige, and more beige, you're not alone. A recent National Women's Health Report on nutrition finds that most of us regularly eat only a limited number of foods, mainly colorless carbohydrates such as breads, cereals, pastas, rice, and potatoes. In doing so, we are not only packing on the pounds, we're also ignoring other nutrient-packed foods that are essential for health. "The body needs forty different nutrients daily," says Gail C. Frank, Dr. PH, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and a professor of nutrition at California State University, in Long Beach. "If your core group of foods is small, you're preparing yourself for disaster."
Slim down and give your health a boost by following these guidelines to brighten your plate:
Use the power of the pyramid. Ensure that you're receiving all the nutrients your body needs by following the food pyramid, suggests Dr. Frank. Start with 6 to 11 small servings of grains per day. ("You don't want to eliminate carbs altogether," she says.) Follow with five servings of fruits and vegetables; two to three servings of dairy; two to three servings of meat, fish or poultry; and a little salt, sugar and fat.
Pay attention to portion sizes. When you're planning your menu, keep in mind that one serving of pasta or rice equals a half cup -- about the size of your fist -- and that one bagel counts as about three servings.
Call on Mother Nature. Summer is prime time to make use of fresh produce. Frank's favorite suggestion: Start with a plateful of greens and add chicken, mandarin oranges, or any type of steamed veggies. To get your beige fix, a couple of breadsticks or a small serving of potato salad is fine. "If you put a rainbow of foods on your plate every day," says Frank, "what you'll find at the end of that rainbow is a healthy, balanced, low-fat diet."
The rainbow connection. Green foods are packed with vitamin C and beta-carotene, both cancer-fighting antioxidants. Dark greens also contain calcium. Red tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene, which reduces the risk of stomach and colon cancers and of lung disease. Orange foods are full of vitamin C and beta-carotene. Yellow corn is full of fiber and iron.